The Trail to the Good Lands
Thousands and thousands of years ago, near the end of the last Ice-age. The people living in what is now Britain and northern France believed that the Great Spirit, the creator of all things, had three ways of dealing with the souls of the dead after they had passed on.
If they had been wise and followed the ways of the Great Spirit, then they would be sent to the Good Lands, where it was always summer with plenty of game to hunt and fruits to eat. From there, they could look down on their descendants and continue to provide advice and assistance during times of crisis.
If a person had been unwise, if they had disobeyed the laws of the Great Spirit, they were sent into the dark underworld, where chaos reigned, chaos that consumed the souls of men, ripping them apart into madness that itself added to the chaos. This chaos too influenced the living, but only for bad.
As for people for whom it was difficult to decide on, how they were dealt with can be best explained by the story of three young brothers.
The first brother was big and strong, brave too, he never turned his back on a fight or waivered in the face of a difficult hunt. Not too smart though. He was tough and dense like the rocks they used to make tools, so they named him Klug, their word for ‘Rock’.
The second brother was tall and wiry, not as strong as Klug, but far faster and agile. There was no tree found that he couldn’t climb, it was like he coiled himself up them like a piece of rope, so they named him Hemma, their word for ‘Rope’.
The third brother was not as strong as Klug or as quick as Hemma. When he looked at things though, he was always thinking, considering. His eyes would shine like the sparks the people would use to start their fires, so they called him Tinna, their word for ‘fire’.
One afternoon, in late Autumn, the three brothers were out hunting deer. They had managed to injure a large stag and were tracking it. The trail ended in a small valley, covered in recent snows. Sure enough, there was the stag, nervously pacing, looking for its pursuers.
The brothers slowly, carefully stalked their way into the valley, but somehow, the stag got wind of them and let out a great bellow. The strength of the stag’s roar was enough to dislodge some of the snow at the top of the valley, this in turn dislodged more snow and ice and in seconds the whole side of the valley was cascading down towards the brothers. There was nothing they could do, they grabbed each other, crouched down and waited for the end. Hundreds of tons of snow, ice and rock engulfed the three young men. There was no chance, they were dead, gone.
The next thing any of the brothers knew, they were standing in a forest, on a simple trail. In the distance they could see that the sky was brightening and in the faint warm breeze, there was the smell of camp-fires. The brothers knew where they were. This was the way to the Good Lands, the way to the afterlife.
They walked the trail, following the light and the scent of the fires. They could feel they were getting closer and their excitement at the chance to see all they had lost was getting higher. The forest around them got increasingly thick and just when they thought that they were about to reach their relatives, the trail split, one narrow, winding, overgrown gap in the wall of branches straight ahead and a clearer, easier path which took off at a right angle.
The brothers paused to consider which path to take. Faint voices could be heard in the distance. Klug, pricked up, as if he had been stung, his look of shock turned to joy “Do you not hear that?” he asked his brothers, “Do you not hear Grandfather’s voice?” The others listened closely and indeed it sounded remarkably like their old grandfather, passed away many years ago, coming from over the thick forest cover. “I miss my grandfather! I must see him now!” declared Klug and before the other brothers could stop him, he threw himself into the little gap. “I will go first and clear the way!” Shouted Klug as he pushed his way through the thick undergrowth “You will follow after me!”
At first he was flying through the gap, crushing branches in his path. But as Hemma and Tinna looked through the gap, he started to struggle. Soon he was completely stopped by the thick mass of tangled branches. His brothers watched as Klug then tried to turn around and pull himself from the branches. They watched horrified as the tangle seemed to come alive, cutting into him, cutting deeper, removing pieces, until eventually there was nothing left except, a mess of lumps that used to be their brother.
That was not all. The brothers saw a horde of small creatures come out of the ground. The rats, snakes and other crawling things took the pieces of their older brother and brought them down with them, down into the underworld.
Hemma and Tinna, after seeing that, proceeded to walk along the clear trail. They quickly realised that the trail was not likely to loop back in the direction of the Good Lands any time soon. This infuriated them because they could see the light, hear the voices and knew that their the afterlife was only a few tree lengths away.
They continued to walk and soon came to a place in the trail where the canopy was a lot lower than it had been. They could both see that it was much brighter and warm looking through the gap and Hemma said “I think I would be able to climb over that.” Tinna remembered the lesson of his oldest brother and cautioned “Do you think that’s wise? We had better check that everything is safe before we do anything.” Hemma dismissed Tinna’s fears “If the branches try to eat me, I will just jump off. OK? When I am on the top I will throw you some vine and you can follow me, then we can climb through to the other side. It will take no time.”
Hemma eagerly climbed over the thick, tangled branches and he was he soon reached the top of the canopy, he reached his head up to look over and he was so caught-up in what he saw that he failed to see what Tinna, who was keeping watch, saw coming over the horizon.
It was a black speck, which got bigger, rapidly bigger. Tinna called and called to his older brother, but he took no heed until it was too late. A giant eagle, ten times as big as a man, grabbed Hemma in its talons and flew off into the distance. Hemma’s screams grew fainter and fainter until they could no longer be heard and the eagle had been reduced to a tiny speck that passed under the edge of the world, into the underworld.
Tinna was now alone, but he was determined to continue along the trail. The noises and scents from the Good Lands still assailed his senses, but he tried his best to ignore them until he could do something about it. The trail went on and on gradually getting wider until he reached a clearing around which was scattered the remains of an old camp. Tinna, tired from his journey, took shelter in the remains of the tent. There he found a large piece of flint and to help himself relax he started to work it. It was a very good piece and it easily flaked into several large chunks, perfect for axes. There was a long piece of wood there as well and he fashioned one of the stone flakes and the wood into a fine new axe. He looked at the thick tangle over the other side of the clearing and then at his axe. He figured now was his time to take on the forest.
The strode confidently to the edge of the tangle, raised the axe and brought to down onto the thickest branch he could find. When the axe struck, the great mass of wood and thorns parted in front of Tinna. He could see that it was bright in front of him, like a summer’s day, he could hear his dead relations call to him. His eyes adjusted to the glare only to find that in front of him stood a giant cave bear.
Tinna looked at the bear, looked at his axe, and threw away the axe, waiting for the inevitable. But that didn’t happen. Instead the bear started to speak “Greetings Tinna. I am Ursa, the messenger of the Great Spirit. This trail was a test to see if you are worthy to enter here, to look after the future. Klug and Hemma were both too impulsive, to quick to act without thinking, that was their undoing. But you Tinna, you were cautious, you thought about what to do. When the Great Spirit sent you the gift of the flint, you made an axe and when the time was right you used it. You have shown yourself wise enough to help protect the future of your clan.
With that Ursa stepped out of Tinna’s way, to allow him join his ancestors. To this day Tinna is in the Good Lands looking down on his descendants, providing the good advice in our heads we use to make good, wise decisions.
But also, we sometimes hear, Klug and Hemma and all the other denizens of the underworld who contribute to the chaos and the madness that fills men’s minds.